AG #12 – Nova: Homegrown Cascade

With #projectcider out the way for another year, it was time to brew some beer again. I decided I needed to use up some of the homegrown hops in the freezer, so attempted my first American Pale Ale.

I’ve had this recipe ready to go for what seems like months, but finding the time to get it brewed has proved tricky. The brew schedule I’d worked up earlier in the year had me brewing something completely different for AG #12, but I decided to change it when I harvested my hops. There was simply no space in the freezer to put this years harvest, especially as there was half of last years and the year before that’s, still sitting crammed in there.

So instead of brewing what I’d originally planned, another Binary Star, I decided it was high time that I used up some of the homegrown hops, while using the malts I already had to hand to try a few different recipes. I’ve wanted to brew an American Pale Ale for ages, I felt it was the right thing to do, before attempting a proper American IPA.

I’d previous worked up five different recipes, all using last years homegrown Cascade, differing only in their malt bills. The idea being to see which one I liked the best and then move on from there. A great idea in principle, but I’d not realised that most of last years homegrown hops were frozen green. This meant that I didn’t have anywhere near enough for five brews, as you need to use five times as many green hops as you do dried, so that idea went out the window.

Around the same time, the homebrewing community on twitter started going on about Hop Stands, essentially a hop steep after flame out, generally above 80°C. Otherwise known as a flame out steep, or an 80°C steep. Kids… Always renaming stuff. The Beer Engine program that I use for building my recipes in, can’t work out the IBU’s provided by this kind of hop steep, so I looked around and found the Brewers Friend website and recipe calculator, which can calculate IBU’s from a hop steep.

So I spent a few afternoons plugging various combinations of malts and hops into the calculator until I ended up with five recipes (you only get five unless you pay to join) I was happy-ish with. I’d decided that since I had 4.7kg of Marris Otter, I’d use it in trying to make my first American Pale Ale. As this style allows for a small amount of speciality grains, I decided to use up the little CARAMUNICH I that was kicking about. I couldn’t decided if I should also use some CARAPILS or Wheat for head retention and body, but in the end decided not to.

My hop drawer in the freezer contained two bags of homegrown Cascade from 2012, so I decided those should be used up first. One bag, 66g, had been dried in the dehydrator, the other bag, 374g, had been frozen green. I decided to add the 66g bag for a full 90 minute boil to maximise extraction and then add the rest for an +80°C steep. There was to be no traditional flavour or aroma hop additions, a real step into the unknown for me.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Thomas Fawcett Marris Otter 5 EBC 4,720 grams 96.3%
Wayermann CARAMUNICH I 90 EBC 182 grams 3.7%
  15 EBC 4902 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Homegrown Cascade (dried) Whole 2% First wort 66 18.57 61.1%
2012 Homegrown Cascade (green) Whole 2% 85°C steep 374 11.81 38.9%
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 18.75 litres
Mash 90 mins at 67°C 90 mins at 68°C
Original gravity 1.053 (12.9 Brix) 1.056 (13.6 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.010
Attenuation 81%
ABV 5.01%
GU/BU ratio 0.61 0.54
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

My digital thermometer had been knackered a few months before in a random accident and I hadn’t got round to replacing it. I managed to borrow one from Bert, but the batteries had leaked and as I was in such a rush when I picked it up, it wasn’t cleaned up and checked if it was working. I should probably have tried it before switching on the hot liquor tank. (HLT) Luckily, it turnned out that my old digital thermometer wasn’t quite as knackered as thought, you just had to submerged the whole probe and handle and leave it for a few minutes and it’d give you a reading. Not the greatest, but serviceable.

I felt totally unprepared to brew and for some reason, I was late in getting started. It wasn’t until 20:00 that the HLT finally got switched on, so I knew it would be a pretty late finish, just as well that I’d loaded up on caffeine. Everything went pretty smoothly though, although I missed my mash temperature by a whole degree. In my defense, I knew I was adding water from the HLT that was about three quarters of a degree to high and with the shonky thermometer, the temperature reading from the grain to determine the strike temperature, may not have been wholly accurate.

I’d originally considered mashing in at 68°C, before changing my mind at the last moment, and deciding to mash in at 67°C. So hitting 68°C didn’t really bother me, as having a touch more body might be useful depending on what the homegrown hops turn out like. I collected exactly 12.5 litres from each batch sparge, which was made a lot easier by my half litre graduated 15 litre bucket, that I bought for helping with the cider.

As I had issues with run off last time out, even while using oat husks, I decided to use up the remainder of the packet, which was around 400g. I also forced myself to run off each of the two batch sparges more slowly than I have in the past, to try and ensure there was no issues with the mash sticking. There wasn’t and run off was constant and for a change, pretty clear. I may have to start using more oak husks than I have in the past, it’s not like they’re massively expensive or anything.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to try first wort hopping, rather than adding the first load of hops when the boil starts. I left the wort from the first batch sparge in the 15 litre bucket and only when I was ready to draw off the second batch sparge, did I add the wort to the boiler and switch it on. It’ll be interesting to see if I can detect any sort of change in the underlying bitterness or not. I’m also not sure about how this will affect the IBU’s, as when you select First Wort on the Brewers Friend recipe calculator, it gives less bitterness units for that amount of hops.

After 90 minutes the boiler was switched off and the wort allowed to chill to 85°C, which didn’t take long. 374g of homegrown Cascade were then added and left to steep for half an hour, with the boiler switched back on and set to keep the temperature there, or thereabouts. Then the chiller went in and in no time, due to the fact it was baltic in the shed, the wort was down to 25°C, so I transferred it into the fermentor, pitched the yeast, tucked it up in the brew fridge and headed inside to go to bed.

After four and a half hours of restless sleep, I was back up and out to the shed to start clearing up. In a change for how I normally empty the mash tun, I dumped the whole thing into a grain bag suspended over the HLT. This allowed all the remaining liquid to runn out of the grains, so what went into the green bin was much dryer than normal. I also did the same with the spent hops, which allowed me to squeeze all of the liquid out of them too. I’m sure this will help stop the green bin becoming quite so clarty and mean I don’t have to clean it so often.

I did have a couple of issues though, which I can only put down to tiredness. For some reason, I didn’t switch the HTL off when doing the second batch sparge, so part of the element got scorched. I also forgot to turn the boiler off when I put the chiller in, so initially, it didn’t drop in temperature as quickly as it could have. Those issues aside, from an overly stressful start, it turned into a pretty uneventful brew.

I’m not sure yet if I’m going to dry hop it, as I didn’t plan to originally, but I do have half a packet of Motueka pellets that need used up. I might just wait till fermentation is over and have a sample and see what I think. I don’t think I’ve been dry hopping with enough hops to make a difference anyway, so I may just save the Motueka for something else.

Update: 11/12/2014
Sometimes I wonder about my level of intelligence. This beer had finished fermenting and was ready to bottle, but I entered the gravity reading into the wrong box, so confused myself thinking it wasn’t done. Queue lots of hand wringing about a stuck fermentation, multiple rousings of yeast, rushing off to the shops to buy some champagne yeast and finally the dawning realisation that I’d been a complete and utter muppet.

All the unnecessary delays meant that I ended up bottling on the same night that I brewed AG #13, which made for some entertainment with jugling space on the work benches in the shed. The bottling itself was pretty straight forward though, as per normal. The colour looks pretty good and I’m sure the clarity will be excellent as it wasn’t dry hopped.

The only real issue, is that it might not be quite ready in time for Christmas, which was the plan. The extra delay in bottling, means it will only have been in the bottle for two weeks, on Christmas day itself. I’m not sure if this one is going to require another week or so to reach it’s best, we’ll find out on the big day…

Update: 29/12/2014
The labels are all stuck on and I’ve started drinking it. After a mere four bottles, I think I can categorically state, that I got the hopping wrong on this one. I shouldn’t have used the bittering addition for the first wort hops, I should have taken some from the 85°C steep instead.

There’s no real upfront bitterness, no sharp snap, just maltiness. The hops and bitterness do come, but they’re smooth, subtle and late. I think that just doing first wort hops and a 85°C steep, without a bittering addition, is a mistake. It’ll be interesting to see what others think of this one, as I suspect there are some who might quite like it. Me? I not convinced.

Update: 04/01/2015
I’ve drunk a fair few of these now and unfortunately they have all had a really low level of carbonation. I’m pretty sure I put in enough priming sugar before bottling, so I have a nasty feeling that one or two bottles will be hideously over conditioned. Time will tell…

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